Book 4-3 1. What made housing a serious issue that needed the government to step in?

Singapore lacked proper housing for the people. This was caused or made worse the situation in Singapore. a. The lack of a mass housing programme (plan) by the colonial government did not help. i. The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) was created to improve Singapore’s general infrastructure e.g. roads. ii. It did build housing for the people but failed to build enough. iii. Between 1927 to 1959, only 23 000 units were built. b. To make matters worse, Singapore’s postwar baby boom led to a sudden population explosion. i. Between 1950 to 1960, the population grew by over 50% to about 1.64 million in size. ii. The SIT’s 23 000 housing units were obviously insufficient to meet the population demand. c. Over-crowing soon took over in the city. i. When more people are born, more people need housing as well as employment. ii. Much of urban employment was found in the city centre, which meant that most people would have to go to the city for work. iii. The transport network then was also less developed. This means you would need to live fairly close to the city to be able to work in it. iv. This led to over-crowding in the city area. v. It was estimated that at least ½ million people lived around the city area. vi. This obviously did not maximize Singapore’s scarce land space. d. As a result squatters and slums became common. i. City housing areas became overly crowded and badly maintained; this led to the formation of slums. ii. The need to find housing close to the city also saw many makeshift housing areas formed around the city, these are called squatters. iii. Living conditions in these areas were generally unsanitary. There was no electricity and no fresh running water. iv. The disposal of sewage/human waste was done manually through a night soil bucket system. v. Add to the over-crowded conditions, it was a fertile place to spread diseases like tuberculosis, or become a fatal fire risk. vi. This fire risk was glaring exposed in the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee fire that left 16 000 people homeless. 2. Was it necessary to involve the government in dealing with the housing crisis? a. Large scale resettlement needs as a result of the Bukit Ho Swee fire and the development of the Jurong Industrial Estate meant that affordable public housing needed to be provided quickly. i. Only the government could actually tackle all the above issues. ii. Land use for the whole island needed to coordinated. To do this, the government set up the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) to redevelop the city centre.


iii. The JTC was roped in to build industrial estates to provide employment. iv. The HDB was set up to help provide housing for the people. v. Thus, through this coordinated approach, land use could be better planned and usage maximized. vi. However, there was also a need to resettle people away from land that had been zoned for other uses. In order to do this, the government enacted the Land Acquisition Act. This was a law that allowed the government to take back land away from reluctant farmers and other land owners, with compensation. vii. Therefore, in order to tackle these issues adequately, the government needed to get involved because the scale of the problem was too great for anyone else to handle. 3. What were the goals of the HDB? a. The main goal of the HDB was to build affordable and sanitary housing to deal with the housing crisis. i. Since it was set up in 1960, the HDB was very successful in building affordable public housing. ii. For example, between 1960 to 1965, the HDB was able to build 54430 flats, far surpassing the SIT’s record iii. This meant it successfully dealt with the problems created by events such as the Bukit Ho Swee fire. iv. However, the HDB also had other goals it needed to address. b. The HDB also needed to maximize land usage as part of a national strategy to deal with the limited land space. i. This was very serious as land was needed for various needs other than housing e.g. building factories to provide jobs. ii. Thus when housing estates were built, the buildings had to be taller. iii. This was done in Queenstown & Tanglin Halt where apartment blocks went up to 12 floors high. iv. Through this method, more people could comfortably live within a smaller land space, thus maximizing land usage. c. The HDB also built self-contained towns. i. This was done to relieve the congestion in the city centre. ii. If residents could get what they needed near to their homes, they would not need to travel far and into the city centre. iii. Thus, these estates would be built away from the city centre. iv. They would also have their own amenities and facilities e.g. shops, recreational areas, schools and places of employment. v. An example of an industrial estate would be Toa Payoh. vi. This would also mean outlying areas of Singapore such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Jurong could comfortably support big populations, helping us make better use of Singapore’s land. d. The HDB also wanted to encourage home ownership. i. Home ownership is an important component in nation building. ii. The idea is to give every Singaporean a stake in the country by getting them to own their homes. iii. In this way, Singaporeans would feel a sense of belonging and show willingness to defend their homes/country. iv. To do this, the HDB and the CPF worked together to help Singaporeans own their flats through payment by installments. v. The HDB also helped the lower income by buying 3 room flats from the market and selling them at a discount to the needy. 2

vi. Other schemes include selling flats at substantial discounts to poorer families who had previously rented their flats. vii. In this way, the HDB was able to help people own their own flats. viii. This was highly successful when compared to other countries. Nearly 90% of Singaporeans now own their own public housing flats compared to Hong Kong (16%), United states (65%) and New Zealand (74%). e. However, land use planning and national loyalty issues were not the only considerations. The HDB also needed to worry about promoting social cohesion among Singaporeans. i. In the years since the 1960s, there was a pattern of certain racial groups dominating some estates. ii. This was a serious problem as it would result in the formation of racial enclaves and endanger Singapore’s multi-racial society. iii. In order to ensure all races get an opportunity to interact and learn how to live with each other, the HDB introduced the ethnic quota system in each apartment block. iv. Through this method, each apartment block must reflect the national racial percentage e.g. 75% Chinese, 18% Malays etc. v. Other methods to improve social cohesion worked on the idea of providing common space, where different peoples can come together e.g. cooking classes in community centres, sports activities etc. vi. Through these common spaces, it is hoped that Singaporeans will learn to live together in understanding and tolerance. vii. This would in turn help build social stability. f. The HDB also wanted to build a sense of belonging among Singaporeans. i. In the 1970s, town planning revolved around the precint concept of having 4-8 blocks together sharing a common area e.g. playground. ii. The RCs (Residents Committees) were also introduced to give residents a chance to interact by allowing them to plan for activities for their neighbours e.g. mooncake festival celebrations etc. iii. This would also help them feel a sense of belonging as they have a say in their own estates activities. iv. By 1989, town councils were set up to give residents a say in how the estates should be run. Important maintenance jobs were given over to residents and the MPs (Minister of Parliament) to administer e.g. rubbish collection etc. g. The HDB also needed to cater to aspirations of different income groups i. With rising affluence (more income), people started demanding better facilities and bigger flats. ii. The HDB responded by improving flat designs, flat sizes and estate facilities e.g. from 1 to 2 room flats to 5 rooms and executive apartments. iii. In the late 70s, the HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Corporation) was set up to build flats for the middle classes who wanted better apartments but could not afford private housing. iv. The HUDC was later abandoned and in 1995, the Executive Condominiums replaced the HUDC housing. v. These apartments resembled condominium housing and catered to the rising middle class. 3

vi. However, the HDB also incorporated these units into existing public housing estates. vii. This was suppose to help build social cohesion among different classes of Singaporeans as well. viii. But most importantly, the goal of the HDB is still to keep housing affordable for everyone by keeping a variety of flats for everyone. 4. How has the role of the HDB changed since the 1990s? a. The goals of the HDB remain firmly to build housing for the masses in Singapore. b. As such, the previous goals are still being pursued. c. However, as Singapore progresses and changes, new challenges meant the HDB needed to respond to them. d. One such change was to help single Singaporeans own their homes. i. Before 1998, the HDB did not allow singles to buy HDB flats. ii. This meant that singles had to buy private housing or live with their relatives. iii. However, with the rising trend of unmarried people, this need had to be addressed. iv. So after 1998, singles can buy 3 room flats from the open market so long as they are over age 35 and apply as a pair. v. By 2004, singles are now allowed to buy flats of any size from the HDB and open market. e. Another challenge was in helping senior citizens. i. As Singapore becomes an ageing society, catering to the housing needs of the elderly was a priority. ii. The HDB responded by building studio apartments for the elderly. This units were smaller and are also equipped with elderly friendly features like ramps for wheel chair, wider toilets with handrail support and emergency cords where elderly folks can call for help from other residents in the same block. iii. These apartments are also located in mature estates so that the elderly are familiar with their surroundings. iv. They are also likely to be near their children – foster family ties while maintaining independence of new families and elderly. v. Estates are also currently upgraded to have lifts stop on every floor. vi. All the above are measures to cope with an ageing population. f. The last challenge is to upgrade older estates. i. With rising affluence, some of the older estates have become less attractive compared to newer estates. ii. To prevent the formation of slums (badly maintained estates), the HDB decided to embark on upgrading works to give older estates better facilities. iii. One way this is done is through the main upgrading projects where whole neighbourhood of flats are given extra amenities and facilities such as an extra room, better kitchen and toilet fittings and upgraded covered walkways etc. iv. Residents get to vote on these changes since they have to bear part of the cost, but most residents tend to agree to them as it would mean creating better living environments as well as raising the value of their flats.


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